Republicans and Democrats alike agree that mass shootings like those that killed 31 people last weekend in Ohio and Texas are terrible tragedies.
But the concurrence disappears quickly when it comes to figuring out what steps federal lawmakers can take to prevent similar attacks in the future. Even as all-too-familiar scenes of anguish play out in the wake of mass shootings, the political conversation typically follows partisan lines.
That appears to be the case again among Wisconsin's congressional delegation after 22 people were gunned down Saturday in a crowded shopping center in El Paso, Texas, and a gunman killed nine more Sunday in a popular nightlife district in Dayton, Ohio.
While western Wisconsin congressmen and the state's two senators were unavailable Wednesday and Thursday to discuss potential legislative action aimed at limiting gun violence in America, staff members issued statements touching on where the representatives stand on the controversial topic of gun control.
“As a gun owner and lifelong hunter, I have long supported universal background checks in order to prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands while preserving the right to responsible gun ownership," said U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse. "That is why I voted in favor of bipartisan universal background checks legislation that passed the House of Representatives over five months ago. We did our job, now it’s time for (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell and the Senate to do theirs."
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., also called for passing the bill requiring background checks for nearly all individuals buying firearms. All Wisconsin's House members supported the legislation passed in February and all Republicans opposed it. The Senate hasn't taken it up.
“Five months ago, the House passed bipartisan legislation to expand federal background checks to all gun sales," Baldwin said. "The American people overwhelmingly support this and I have cosponsored universal background check legislation in the Senate to prevent the easy access of dangerous weapons for those that shouldn't have them. I believe Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell must allow our legislation a vote in the Senate so we can pass this common sense gun safety reform and start saving lives.”
GOP President Donald Trump said this week he sees "no political appetite" in Congress for reinstating an expired ban on assault rifles but a "great appetite for background checks" among people upset about government inaction after repeated mass shootings.
But familiar roadblocks quickly arose, as advisers to McConnell, R-Ky., told the Washington Post he would not bring any gun-control legislation to the floor without widespread Republican support, and the newspaper also reported that the powerful National Rifle Association's chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, spoke with Trump Tuesday and warned him the background check bill would not be popular among the president's supporters.
Wisconsin's other U.S. senator, Republican Ron Johnson, issued a statement supporting the president's condemnation of the violent extremism Johnson said led to the "horrific domestic terror mass shootings," adding, "We must remain committed to tenaciously rooting these cancers out of our society."
Johnson went on to say there are no quick fixes guaranteed to prevent future tragedies, but said he believes effective, bipartisan actions are possible, such as following widely agreed upon recommendations that can be applied both in schools and other public spaces to prevent and mitigate mass violence. The statement didn't elaborate about those actions.
Like Kind, who called for increased mental health screening, Johnson suggested the nation needs to re-evaluate "how our society treats mental illness to keep firearms out of the hands of people who pose a danger to themselves and their communities."
"But the long-term solution," Johnson continued, "lies in renewed faith, strengthened families, and less virtual socialization and more genuine human to human interaction in real communities."
The office of U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Weston, didn't provide any comment, but the congressman said on Twitter he was heartbroken by the senseless violence in El Paso and Dayton, adding, "There is no place in this country for this kind of evil." His tweet didn't discuss any potential legislative solutions.
Eric Kasper, an associate professor of political science at UW-Eau Claire, maintained that some of the split over the constitutionality of potential gun restrictions could be the result of the U.S. Supreme Court not taking a clear stand on the issue.
People on both sides of the debate can point to language in the Second Amendment to defend their point of view, he said.
While a 2008 Supreme Court decision offered some clarity by affirming an individual's right to self-defense and right to keep and bear arms, it also affirmed the constitutionality of several existing restrictions on the sale and use of guns, Kasper said. The late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, for instance, wrote a decision that made it clear that banning dangerous and unusual weapons such as fully automatic M16 rifles is acceptable.
The Supreme Court, however, hasn't ruled on the constitutionality of magazine size restrictions or banning the kind of semi-automatic rifles, such as AR-15s, that have been used in several U.S. massacres.
"At some point the Supreme Court will have to weigh in," Kasper said, "but at this point they've chosen not to."